Color, 1985, 97 mins. 59 secs.
Directed by Dušan Makavejev
Starring Eric Roberts, Greta Scacchi, Bill Kerr, Kris McQuade, Chris Haywood
Fun City Editions (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), MGM (DVD) (US R1 NTSC), Umbrella Entertainment (DVD) (Australia R0 PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
One of global cinema's all-time great provocateurs, Serbian filmmaker Dušan Makavejev had earned his reputation in the 1970s with transgressive art house films like WR: Mysteries of the Organism and Sweet Movie before taking a break and returning in the '80s with the more accessible Montenegro. Following that direction, he headed to Australia where he got the two biggest leading actors of his career and the most mainstream acceptance with The Coca-Cola Kid. The episodic film was adapted from stories in two books by Frank Moorhouse, The Americans, Baby and The Electrical Experience (with the source material even shown within the film), here with an outrageous storytelling feat of corporate ribbing all the way to the title itself that would probably never happen today.
Sort of a sexier, stranger variation on Local Hero, the film stars Eric Roberts at the height of his Hollywood career as Becker, an Atlanta executive from The Coca-Cola Company who heads to Sydney to pinpoint areas on the continent where the soft drink hasn't gained dominance. The big target is a small valley village where, as he soon discovers, an old man's own homemade soda (including its own personally crushed fruit) is so beloved that the locals have no interest in anything else. Along with his appointed secretary, Terri (Scacchi), and her whip-smart young daughter, who are hiding from a mistake in their past, he ends up tangling with the local businessman, McDowell (Kerr), for a series of odd misadventures that will change his life.
Complete with an insane earworm of a soda jingle by Tim Finn (of Crowded House and Split Enz, with Neil Finn seen performing it, too), The Coca-Cola Kid is one of the best showcases for Roberts who gets to use his natural Georgia accent along with a lighter side than usual at the time. His previous harrowing role in Star 80 even gets a quick shout out on a magazine rack, so keep your eyes peeled. Scacchi matches him with a warm, charismatic performance, and together they have one of the more memorable love scenes of the decade involving tons of feathers. The characters are all interesting and fun, and the film is loaded with peculiar touches like unexpected use of a Santa Claus suit and a character wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with a poster for The Wasp Woman.
Released theatrically by Cinecom (who also handled Starstruck), this film hit U.S. VHS from Vestron and got its first DVD edition from MGM in 2002. An Australian DVD followed in 2009 from Umbrella featuring a fun featurette, "The Real Thing" (32m16s), with Scacchi and producer David Roe giving very animated and often hilarious accounts of their time on the set. They also go into the appeal of Moorhouse's writing, the unique spirit of the story, the physical demands of a few key scenes, and memories of the colorful director. In 2022, Fun City Editions gave the film its global Blu-ray debut with a new 2K restoration from the 35mm interpositive. As with the label's other films, it looks great and accurate to the source with the film grain left intact and no significant issues to report. The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 stereo track (with optional English subtitles) has some fun and dramatic channel separation at times (that opening plane whoosh!) and decodes nicely to surround where it counts. "The Real Thing" is ported over here, but you also get a new audio commentary by Fun City's Jonathan Hertzberg and film programmer Lars Nilsen packed with tons about the film including the importance of cinematographer Dean Semler (The Road Warrior, Dances with Wolves), the differences from the literary sources, the rationale behind some of the creative choices including the casting, and the ties to other Makavejev films. There's also a bit of other interview material interjected here as well giving more background on Cinecom and the reasons behind releasing this film. "Dark and Bubbly" (11m7s) is a welcome chat with Roberts about making this film as a refreshing "paid vacation" after Star 80 and having a great time in Australia with his director and fellow actors. Finally the disc wraps up with the disclaimer-heavy theatrical trailer and a quick 37s image gallery, and a booklet with a new essay by Spike Carter, "Soda Pop Hegemony," taking a deeper look at the film's release and themes including a nifty reading of the slightly perplexing final seconds.
Reviewed on June 29, 2022